OPEN ACCESS GOVERNMENT: US law criminalises sex workers for discussing work online

Human Rights Watch and four other plaintiffs will present arguments on September 20 against the dismissal of their challenge to a 2017 United States law that imposes criminal liability for online speech about sex work.

The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 31 of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse and William B. Bryant Annex in Washington, DC. Plaintiffs contend the law violates freedom of speech and makes sex work more dangerous for an already vulnerable and criminalised population, Human Rights Watch said.

The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, commonly known as FOSTA, makes it illegal to own or use an internet site with the intent to “promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” Because the law’s language is broad and vague, it could prevent sex workers and others from writing about sex work and posting about critically important health and safety issues, and it would restrict organisations like Human Rights Watch from effectively reporting on and advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work.

“We’re going to keep fighting this law that threatens our ability to do our job – to clearly advocate for the rights of sex workers and to see our work shared freely across the internet,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We’ve already seen the law impel many partners and intermediaries to take down information that helps guide sex workers to online resources to protect themselves”

Sex workers and sex worker organisations in the United States have said FOSTA has endangered them. Websites that made it easier for sex workers to screen clients and to sell sex in safer locations have stopped sex workers from posting.

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US law criminalises sex workers for discussing work online by Open Access Government staff

Sept. 20, 2019

THE GUARDIAN: Today’s sex workers, like their Victorian sisters, don’t want ‘saving’

On Tuesday, Sheffield council’s licensing committee voted to renew the licence of the Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing club until next April. Lap-dancing clubs in the UK are legally required to reapply for their licence, and the city’s Spearmint Rhino has been successful in doing so every year since it opened in 2003. But this year, what is usually a routine procedure became a lightning rod for highly charged debates around sex work and feminism.

Over the past 12 months, the Spearmint Rhino has been the target of a coalition of feminist groups who have campaigned against its licence being renewed, on the grounds that strip clubs sexually objectify women and act as a prostitution grooming ground for vulnerable young women.

Last February, the group Not Buying It paid men to go into Spearmint Rhinos in London and Sheffield, buy lap dances and film naked women without their consent. This footage was then presented to Sheffield council by the Women’s Equality party as proof of multiple breaches of the club’s code of conduct. The council’s licensing committee subsequently launched an inquiry and found that six dancers had sexually touched themselves, each other and/or the customers. But despite these breaches, Sheffield council agreed to renew Spearmint Rhino’s licence.

The tactics employed by the club’s opponents are well established and – unlike in this case – usually successful. Campaigns to revoke the licences of strip clubs on the grounds that they exploit women and attract sexually depraved men are nothing new. One of the earliest campaigns was led by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice which was established in 1873, and targeted burlesque theatres, calling them the “habitats of sex crazed perverts”. Anti-vice activists would sneak into the clubs and report the “disorderly” and “lewd” acts they saw on stage to the licensing committee, demanding the venue’s licence be revoked.

They finally succeeded in their mission in 1942, when the licences of the last three burlesque clubs in Manhattan were revoked.

The tactics employed by the society and groups such as Not Buying It are virtually identical. But what has changed in the intervening 77 years is that the sex workers at the centre of these debates are finally being allowed to speak for themselves. And to the surprise of many feminist groups, it turns out that they do not want saving. Nor do they seem particularly grateful to their would-be saviours for campaigning on their behalf to do them out of a job. In fact, they appear to be downright angry about have-a-go rescue missions that involve secretly filming them naked, then outing them to members of local licensing committees.

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Today’s sex workers, like their Victorian sisters, don’t want ‘saving’ by Kate Lister

Sept. 20, 2019

ALLURE: How to Discuss Sexual Boundaries and Consent, According to a Sex Educator

The first time I discovered the “yes/no/maybe” worksheet, I had dragged two of my closest friends to a Brooklyn sex toy shop for a Kink 101 class. Afterward, we rushed across the street to a crowded bar to pour over every word of it — discussing which sex acts we knew gave us pleasure and which ones we’d like to explore. We listened intently to each other as we analyzed where our desires and boundaries aligned or differed. This affirmed what I now understand as a sex educator: that sometimes we need an ice breaker of sorts to start a dialogue around the sex we want to have. Talking about our desires can feel complicated.

A yes/no/maybe worksheet is a guide for exploring sexual desires and boundaries. It basically is exactly what it sounds like: Alongside an extensive list of sexual acts are three boxes where you categorize every act as either a yes, no, or maybe. As a sex educator, this worksheet is one of my top recommendations for every person who is sexually active with themselves or others.

The beauty of making this type of list is that you can almost always find one tailored to your current needs. Are you just starting to think about having partnered sex for the first time? This comprehensive list might be perfect for you. Are you in a non-monogamous relationship? This list might suit your needs. Are you new to exploring BDSM? Try a kinky yes/no/maybe worksheet. Consent lies at the intersection of two (or more) people's mutual desires — yes/no/maybe lists can help you figure out what those are.

Having a fulfilled sex life doesn’t magically manifest — it takes intention and self-exploration to not only figure out what you desire but also how to communicate about those desires with your partners. When engaging in the yes/no/maybe worksheet with a partner, it’s important to take time individually filling out your categories before discussing them together. This reduces the likelihood of influencing one another’s responses to mirror what it is you think your partner wants. It also creates more spaciousness for explicit and decisive no’s. For people who struggle to create boundaries, this worksheet can ease pressure as everyone is bound to have a list of hard no’s.

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How to Discuss Sexual Boundaries and Consent, According to a Sex Educator by Corrine Kai

Sept. 19, 2019

BUZZFEED NEWS: A Consultant For “Hustlers” Said Sex Workers Feel Conflicted About The Film

A consultant for the film Hustlers said sex workers have had mixed reactions to the hit film, feeling both “super jazzed” about the representation it gives, but also “really pissed off” about the double standards Hollywood is allowed to perpetuate.

Jacqueline Frances, who served as a “comfort consultant” for the film, told BuzzFeed News’ Twitter show AM to DM that despite Hustlers promoting strippers “and being super hot on Instagram with their blue check marks,” sex workers are getting “deleted and shadow-banned every day.”

“It just doesn’t seem fair,” she said. “Why does Hollywood get to sensationalize and have all of the permission to promote this culture, while actual sex workers are suffering every day and getting deleted off Instagram?”

Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and Julia Stiles, tells the story of a group of New York City–based strippers who drug stock traders and CEOs in order to steal their money. The movie first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier in September and was released in theaters Sept. 13. The film, which has been a box office success and well-received by critics, is based on a New York magazine article from 2015 titled, “The Hustlers at Scores.”

“It just seems hypocritical and seems unfair,” Frances said. “If we’re going to make a movie about sex workers, we need to respect sex workers.”

While some sex workers didn’t like the double standard that Hollywood is allotted with Hustlers, Frances said plenty of them also really liked the movie, saying “they were also super excited that there’s a movie that doesn’t kill every stripper in the end.”

“Most movies that feature strippers, there’s always a violent scene against us,” Frances said. “And that’s toxic and a real problem that we face, so it’s not funny, it’s not like a plot device. It’s a very real problem.”

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A Consultant For “Hustlers” Said Sex Workers Feel Conflicted About The Film by Krystie Lee Yandoli

Sept. 19, 2019

BUZZFEED NEWS: Democratic Voters Are Opening Up To Decriminalizing Sex Work

Inside a congressional office building on a recent Tuesday, Kate D’Adamo had a tough sell.

D’Adamo had spent the year lobbying in the US Capitol on behalf of sex workers, a workforce that’s often maligned and portrayed cartoonishly on TV dramas. On this August morning, as her phone perpetually charged from a giant battery, she was trying to unravel a law passed last year designed to tackle human trafficking that had, in the process, outlawed the online platforms that many sex workers used to screen clients. Known as SESTA-FOSTA, the law has caused more sex workers to work without those tools, making them more vulnerable to predators on the street.

Part of a growing national network of activists behind a backlash against the law, D'Adamo has quarterbacked a bill that’s expected to be introduced in Congress this fall to study the ramifications of the law — part of a larger goal of repealing it and, one day, decriminalizing sex work nationwide.

And on this day, she sat across from a legislative aide to a House member from California, looking for members willing to cosponsor the bill.

“The Congress member understands, you know, the harms that the bill that was signed into law has done,” the aide told D’Adamo and two fellow activists from LGBTQ organizations who’d joined her. “But I can’t see the Congress member coming out publicly and supporting this, just because I feel that we would get a lot of backlash in the district.”

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Democratic Voters Are Opening Up To Decriminalizing Sex Work by Dominic Holden

Sept. 19, 2019

ELIGIBLE: Healing Through BDSM “Sex Play”

BDSM is a blanket term that covers a wide variety of “sex play” including bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism; however it also encompasses fetishes and kink play. Sex play is a natural drive shared by many individuals that is not only innate, but important to express.

Most importantly, those who are able to take it a step further and experiment are often surprised at how fun sex play is, how instinctively right it feels, and its healing power.

Sex play used to be taboo. Now it’s not! Individuals, especial women, are hungry for a unique voice to express their sexuality. Many of us were taught that sex has to be or to look a certain way for it to be “natural.” This is the farthest thing from the truth. Each of us is “one of a kind” and our sexuality is a special expression of our unique essence. Today many people are finally being given –and are giving themselves–the much needed permission to find and express this splendid source of healthy energy within themselves.

When an individual suppress their BDSM, fetish, or kink desires it can be harmful, and can cause emotional problems and undermine relationships. The fact is that sex play enriches lives!

In my 15 years’ experience as a sex-positive therapist and intimacy advisor I have witnessed firsthand how this intimate magic can heal on many levels. Individuals who have been able to use sex play to work through long-standing issues can achieve dramatic results with concerns such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even sexual trauma.


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"Healing Through BDSM 'Sex Play'" by Dr. Stephanie Hunter Jones

April 8, 2015

REFINERY 29: My Body, My Work

Sex work is real work.

That’s the battle cry led by sex workers in New York state fighting to stop the criminalization of their labor. Last June, a handful of Democrat lawmakers introduced the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act bill, which was drafted with Decrim NY, a coalition of sex workers, immigration advocates , and LGBT organizations. If passed, the statewide legislation package would eliminate penalties to consenting adults who buy or sell sex, while keeping intact existing anti-trafficking laws.

Currently, sex work is criminalized everywhere in the U.S., with the exception of some counties in Las Vegas where it was legalized. It's worth noting the huge difference between legalization, which invites government regulation, and decriminalization, which removes all forms of regulations and laws from the job.

New York’s bill, unique in the nation, could change the lives of the countless people in the sex trade industry who have been arrested, incarcerated and subjected to widespread discrimination related to employment, housing, and more.

Most seek sex work as a survival strategy —to escape homelessness, violence or, in the case of LGBT+ people, rejection. Many sex workers are undocumented or come from otherwise marginalized communities.

Of all prostitution-related arrests in New York, 94% were black women, while 9 out of 10 women detained in massage parlors offering sexual services were immigrants. It’s no wonder that, for fear of being arrested, sex workers tend not to report violence or crimes committed against them.

And then there are the shockingly archaic sex-related laws that were on the books until recently: Up until 2014, NYPD officers could arrest people for simply walking around with more than three condoms in their wallets. The discretionary practice often served as an alibi for racial profiling.

A study in The Lancet on HIV and sex workers showed that decriminalization of sex work would avert 33–46% of HIV infections in the next decade. It would also increase their access to human rights, including health care. An estimated 20 to 40% of cis- women are at high risk of HIV infection in the United States reported having sex in exchange for money. Trans sex workers are nearly 6 times as likely to be living with HIV than the general trans population.

Although the push to decriminalize seems like a long shot, it has become a hot topic for the progressive movement in the 2020 Presidential primaries. Democratic presidential candidates have come out in support of it, including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders.

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My Body, My Work by Estephani Cano

Sept. 17, 2019

ATLAS OBSCURA: When American Waitresses Were Labeled ‘Women of Ill Repute’

When Nell returned to the breakroom, her waitress’ apron was full of money. Her coworkers, spotting the dollar bills, laughed. “Them ain’t tips,” said one waitress. “Them is dates, ain’t they, Nell?”

Nell displayed the cash to her friends. “Sure,” she said. “Be thankful for a dollar in these hard times!” Nell wasn’t the only waitress in the Chicago restaurant who found herself turning to some form of sex work, from casual dates in exchange for clothes or gifts, to sex acts in exchange for money. There was Marietta, who went on dates and engaged in other “unquotable” activities for tulips and candy, and Daisy, who beefed up her meager tips with sex acts under the table. But the sexualization wasn’t always so overt. As the women smoothed on their uniforms for another backbreaking shift, they knew a simple truth: If you want your tips, you’d better smile.

The year was 1917, and the waitresses worked in one of the many casual restaurants multiplying on Chicago’s streets. Frances Donovan, a University of Chicago-trained school teacher and sociologist, had gone undercover to work among them. The result: The Woman Who Waits, a groundbreaking ethnography of the early restaurant industry published in 1920. But read through Donovan’s book on the relationship between sexuality and tips, and you may well feel you’re reading the news.

“When you are hired as a waitress, it might as well be a part of the manual. You will be sexually harassed,” Alison Baker, a server at a Mexican restaurant in Chicago, told The Guardian in 2017. “You are relying on this person for your wage, so you can’t say anything.” Since the #MeToo movement swept American workplaces in 2017, stories like Baker’s have increasingly made the news. It’s no wonder: Restaurant workers are stunningly vulnerable to sexual harassment, with 80 percent of women servers reporting sexual harassment from customers, two-thirds from managers, and half from other staff. With a national tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, many servers such as Baker often feel compelled to put up with unwanted sexualization—from lewd comments to sexual assault.

But the history of sexual harassment in waitressing goes deeper than tipping. Since the days of colonial taverns, women who serve have often been considered—by government officials, customers, and even courts—sexually available. For some servers, unwanted sexual attention was an unfortunate reality of the workplace. For others, like the waitresses who offered both liquor and sexual services in Gilded Age saloons, sex work was part of the job description. From steamy dance halls to staid lunch counters, sexual harassment and sex work are deeply entrenched in the history of America’s restaurants.

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When American Waitresses Were Labeled ‘Women of Ill Repute’ by Reina Gattuso

Sept. 16, 2019

NOW THIS: This lawyer is fighting to decriminalize sex work in New York

Lawyer Jared Trujillo is fighting to change the law criminalizing sex work in New York.

“Sex work is inherently work,” he explained. “It’s how people feed their families. It’s how people put clothes on their backs. It’s, you know, how people survive, and I think for people to know that their means to survive is valued by society would only empower folks.”

Trujillo, who also helms the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, says sex work, as well as many other types of jobs, helped him finance his education. The association is a union of attorneys and staff represents low-income folks in NYC.

New York may become the first state to fully decriminalize sex work thanks to a bill package introduced in the New York State Legislature that could be up for a vote in the next legislative session. Trujillo worked with advocacy group DecrimNY to help draft the decriminalization bill. If passed, it would allow consensual, paid sex between adults, while a separate bill would eliminate the “walking while trans” ban.

Some opponents of the decrim movement say it would embolden traffickers who coerce or force people into sex. But many current and former sex workers dispute that claim, saying decriminalization would help police officers and law enforcement identify victims of trafficking since they wouldn’t be as afraid to come forward.

Advocates say decriminalizing sex work could help provide legal recourse for full-service sex workers and help destigmatize those involved in other sex trades.

“I think it will let people know that they’re seen,” Trujillo explained. “It will let people know that society doesn’t view the way that they support themselves as any less meaningful or as less valid than anyone else.”

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This lawyer is fighting to decriminalize sex work in New York by Now This staff

Sept. 15, 2019

THE CONVERSATION: Yes, latex gloves can be part of a healthy relationship: busting the myths around sexual fetishism

People with fetishes have a sexual attraction to inanimate, non-living objects or non-genital body parts. Any body part can become a fetish, including feet, hair, and noses.

Most object fetishes tend to be clothing items, such as stockings, latex gloves, and raincoats.

Although fetishism was once thought to be rare, this has been challenged by recent research. A survey of 1,040 Canadians found 26% of participants had engaged in some form of fetish activity at least once.

As a fetish researcher, I’m often asked if fetishism can ever be healthy. The simple answer is yes. While fetishism was once perceived as a mental illness, this is no longer the case.

According to the current diagnostic and statistical manual used to classify mental health disorders (DSM-5), a fetish is only considered a disorder in the rare instances when the fetish causes “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning”. This means the majority of people with a fetish don’t have a mental illness.

Despite fetishism no longer being perceived as an illness, my research has found people often describe those with fetishes as “unhealthy”, “sick” or “crazy”. This false belief is problematic for those with fetishes, as it can result in stigma and discrimination.

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Busting the Myths around sexual fetishism by Giselle Rees

Sept. 11, 2019